Robust Line Management Versus Bullying – How Far Is Too Far?

Robust Line Management Versus Bullying - How Far Is Too Far?
Home | News | Robust Line Management Versus Bullying – How Far Is Too Far?

We review this age old debate in light of the recent media interest in the Dominic Raab investigation and findings.

As HR professionals, we understand that maintaining a positive workplace culture is essential for the success of any organisation. Unfortunately, sometimes the line between strong management and bullying can become blurred. What one person perceives as a reasonable management technique may be seen as bullying by another, leading to conflict and damaging the overall work environment. Recent media interest in the actions of high-profile figures, such as Dominic Raab, has brought this issue to the forefront of public consciousness.

It’s essential to recognise that bullying is a serious problem which should never be tolerated in the workplace. The negative impact it has on employees, both personally and professionally, can be significant and long-lasting. Workplace bullying can lead to low morale, decreased productivity, increased absenteeism and high staff turnover. It can also result in mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, which can have a devastating impact on individuals and their families.

What Is Effective Line Management?

There is a distinction between bullying and legitimate management techniques. Effective line management involves providing guidance, feedback and direction to employees to help them perform at their best. This can sometimes require tough conversations or performance improvement plans, which may be uncomfortable for the employee in question. It is crucial to ensure that these conversations are conducted with sensitivity and respect. Managers must listen to their employees, take their concerns seriously, and act to resolve any issues in a constructive manner.

Perception Makes this More Tricky

It’s important to recognise that what one person perceives as bullying may not be the intention of the manager in question. Perception is subjective – different people have different sensitivities. What one person perceives as a motivating challenge, another may see as an unreasonable demand. Also, workplace environments differ vastly, with significant differences in everyday language and the way colleagues interact. Staff might whisper in an office, whereas staff might shout across a building site to be heard. Cultures of banter can also add a layer of complexity to the way some employees might perceive bullying from a line manager, which can make this harder still to navigate. This is why it is essential to foster an open and transparent work culture, where employees feel comfortable expressing their concerns and managers can receive feedback on their management techniques.


The recent media interest in the actions of Dominic Raab highlights the importance of clear boundaries in the workplace. Mr Raab was accused of bullying and mistreatment of staff, leading to calls for greater accountability and transparency. It’s highlighted the need for a robust approach to preventing bullying in the workplace. Regardless of whether his behaviour met the legal definition of bullying, it is clear that his conduct caused harm to the individuals involved, and damaged his employer’s reputation. This serves as a reminder that even well-intentioned managers can sometimes cross the line, so it is important for organisations to have clear policies and guidelines in place to prevent and address workplace bullying.

So, How Far Is Too Far When it Comes to Line Management?

There is no single answer to this question – the difference between tough management and bullying can be difficult to define. As we have seen, different workplaces and individuals have different standards and expectations. It depends of the individual employee’s personality and work style, the culture of the organisation and the nature of the job. However, there are some general guidelines that can help mangers avoid crossing the line into bullying territory. Managers should:

  • Focus on specific behaviours or performance issues, rather than making personal attacks or criticism. Be clear about expectations and provide constructive feedback on how to improve. Be willing to listen to employees’ concerns and ideas and be open to feedback themselves.
  • Be respectful and professional in their interactions with employees. Avoid aggressive or threatening language. Never engage in physical or verbal abuse. If a manager is feeling angry or frustrated, they should step away and calm down before speaking with the employee.
  • Be aware of the power dynamic in their relationship with employees. Don’t use their position of authority to intimidate or control others. Always strive to create a collaborative and supportive work environment.

It’s essential to ensure that all employees feel respected and valued. If an employee feels uncomfortable or upset by the behaviour of their line manager, it is essential to address the issue immediately. HR professionals need to be able to recognise the signs of bullying and intervene effectively. This can involve informal discussions, mediation, or formal investigations, depending on the severity of the situation.

If you would like any additional help or training with the most effective approach to line management, please contact Jo Bradbury in our team on 07570 372118.